Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hung up his military uniform today, launching a process that will inevitably end in his election as Egypt's next president. Following a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Sisi declared that he has retired from the army and would enter the political arena. "I humbly announce my intention to run for the presidency of the Arab Republic of Egypt," he said in colloquial Arabic in a speech aired on state television. "I consider myself -- as I have always been -- a soldier dedicated to serve the nation, in any position ordered by the people."
For many observers, Sisi's rise to power represents a dangerous return to the status quo ante of Egyptian politics. Time and again over the last eight months, for example, the Washington Post's editorial page hashammered away at the army chief for the government's human rights abuses and denial of democratic freedoms. The generals, according to the folks on 15th St., are leading Egypt in reverse -- essentially re-establishing the old political order at the expense of the high ideals of the 2011 uprising.
It was just three years ago that Hosni Mubarak fell, but reams have already been written about Egypt's lost revolution. These analyses are accurate -- Egypt is not going to be a democracy any time soon. However, Cairo is also not the barren political environment that critics imagine, in which autocrats enforce their rule solely with tear gas and the truncheons.
The country's trajectory is clearly authoritarian, but its politics are likely to be hotly contested, even under a President Sisi.
To the casual observer, Sisi must seem like the only political force in Egypt. A cult of personality followed closely on the heels of the army chief's emergence last summer: The military-friendly media framed Sisi as "Egypt's savior," and stories quickly emerged of Egyptian brides with the field marshal's visage painted on their fingernails, Sisi chocolates, sandwiches, and pajamas, as well as the standard Middle Eastern strongman-poster-on-every-public-building phenomenon.